Deborah Willis Reflects on Gordon Parks’ Fashion Flare

Deborah Willis honors Gordon Parks with a special feature in The New York Times’ Lens Blog that highlights his work in fashion photography. A native of Kansas, Gordon Parks became one of the most prolific photographers of the 20th Century. In addition to being the first African American staff photographer at LIFE magazine, Mr. Parks created a diverse archive of photographic works. Deborah Willis, herself an artist, photographer, historian and educator, was so inspired by Mr. Parks’ images that she devoted much of her research and scholarship to documenting his work, as well as his influence on contemporary photographers.

The New York Times

Lens: Photography, Video and Visual Journalism

“The Fashionable Mr. Parks”

November 30, 2012

“With a clear understanding about how to ‘look’ on city streets, in cafes and society balls, Parks’s fashion photographs are about the experience of being dressed. He communicated beauty, vanity and pleasure in his photographs of fashionably dressed women…”

Theater evening fashions. New York, 1958. Gordon Parks, courtesy Gordon Parks Foundation.

“Parks challenged prevailing rules about how to photograph fashion, including objects, group poses and streetscapes that beckoned with the allure of a desired lifestyle or career.”

Paris, 1949. Gordon Parks, courtesy the Gordon Parks Foundation.

“His photographs suggested that he caught his subjects off guard and midaction, as if they were waiting for a bus, in the middle of a shopping trip or expecting a lunch date. Parks captured these casual moments with a sense of intimacy and awareness. The viewer imagined the moment, which was framed dramatically, as if part of a narrative.”

Evening wrapts at dawn. New York, 1956. Gordon Parks, courtesy the Gordon Parks Foundation.

“Parks’s models appear uninterested, but we know that they are aware of the camera’s eye and that they have been caught in the moment. He photographed them amid the activity of city life — walking, lunching and daydreaming — and all viewed from a relatively close distance. Parks was aware of societal dress codes and the designers’ messages about the female body. The models’ poses, though subtle, provoke ideas about desire and the idealized body.”

Models with boy-length haircuts. New York, 1949. Gordon Parks, courtesy Gordon Parks Foundation.

“He challenged the genre by inventing ways to enrich our ideas about style. Ultimately, his fashion photography and writings on fashion were simply informed by beauty.”

James Galanos chiffon. Hollywood, 1961. Gordon Parks, courtesy the Gordon Parks Foundation.

To read more of Deborah Willis’ article on Gordon Park’s fashion photography and his experiences, visit New York Times article “The Fashionable Mr. Parks”.

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